The judge and the historian. A comparative and meta-historical analysis of American and European historians as expert witnesses in post-1945 litigation

Start - End 
2014 - 2018 (ongoing)
Type 
Department(s) 
Department of History
Research Focus 

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Abstract

This doctoral research project focuses on the judicial use of history. It is of an interdisciplinary nature considering legal as well as historical issues, although the emphasis lies on the latter. The main focus of my research is to look into the roles of historians as expert witnesses in court and how the judicial use of historical argumentation influences the expert historian’s research and discourse. Using a variety of research methods such as meta-historical analysis, oral history techniques, and participant observation; I will arrive at better insights into this controversial practice.

The courtroom offers a challenging environment to study the legal use of historical research. The forensic form of history relates to the field of public history. When historians testify in court, not only their research but also history itself is judged. With a rising number of historians active as expert witnesses, both in the USA and Europe, forensic history is increasingly important for the historical profession.

The main goal of my research is the expansion of our understanding of the use of history in a forensic context and of the consequences of the judicial use historical facts. In order to achieve this goal, I combine a theoretical and an empirical approach. My theoretical approach examines the phenomenon of forensic historiography by applying analytical tools which have recently been developed in the fields of meta- and public history. My empirical approach will focus on three extensive case studies. Tobacco, lead-paint, and asbestos litigation provide thought-provoking instances of historians testifying in court. I will reflect on the extent to which historians and their historical accounts are influenced by legal contexts.

Ph.D. fellowship of the Scientific Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), promotor prof. dr. Berber Bevernage, co-promotor prof. dr. dr. Alain Wijffels, second-promotor prof. dr. Antoon De Baets (PDF).

Ramses Delafontaine has received a Fulbright Scholarship and a grant from the Belgium American Education Foundation to do part of my Ph.D. research at Stanford during the academic year 2015-2016.

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